Photo: Houses at 1330 (left) and 1308 (right) Illsley Drive, located in the historic District, Fort Wayne. The Foster Park Neighborhood Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. Photographed by User:Nyttend (own work), 2014, via Wikimedia Commons, accessed March, 2023.
The Illsley Place-West Rudisill Historic District [†] is comprised of two parallel, east-west oriented streets a city block in length. Illsley Place is its own independent development defined by entry gates at both the Broadway and Beaver Avenue entries. The district's section of West Rudisill Boulevard is the western terminus of a primary east-west transportation artery south of the downtown. The St. Mary's River and Foster Park lie to the west of the district, and residential developments on the north, south, and east. Taylor University borders the district's east end on the south side of West Rudisill.
The district has 65 single-family residences (63 contributing) constructed between circa 1887 and circa 1982. Except for a few of the later houses, all have detached garages. Most of the houses are designed in a revival style, with the Colonial Revival style accounting for 28 examples, or 43% of the district. The fourteen Tudor Revival and the seven Ranch examples follow the Colonial Revival in popularity. There are six contributing objects: two sets of brick entry markers (a set located at each end of Illsley Drive), two gate posts located on the northwest corner of 1330 Illsley Drive, a fence post located on the northwest corner of 1334 West Rudisill Boulevard, and a single lamppost located in the roundabout. The Illsley Drive Roundabout is the lone contributing structure. The district's topography is mostly level, however there is a gentle slope to the river. Both streets have sidewalks and are lined with street trees. Several trees along West Rudisill are likely remnants of the city's early Twentieth Century beautification efforts. The two non-contributing houses are Minimal Traditional examples constructed well after the period of significance.
The circa construction dates for the individual houses were established from, and are keyed to, the following sources: Polk's Fort Wayne City Directory, Sanborn Insurance Maps for Alien County, and Phyllis Brockmeyer's research of architect Alvin M. Strauss. Polk's started listing individual street addresses and their owners in 1927, however several houses were constructed prior to this date. The directory was typically issued annually, so it was assumed a house was constructed the year prior to its first year listed in the directory. Several houses, primarily on the north side of Rudisill, were dated with Sanborn Maps. The dates available and most relative to this application were 1918, 1936, and 1951. The Brockmeyer research provided dates for the Strauss designed houses. Dates for various other houses were provided by scattered resources, and are identified in the footnotes.
The Illsley Place-West Rudisill Historic District is an example of the historic trends in the development and growth of Fort Wayne, and its connection to the city's planning and beautification. It has outstanding examples of architecture, and reflects design principles important in the history of community planning. The district is a small example of Fort Wayne's city beautification movement, and displays homes designed by the city's notable architects. The district was first identified in the city's 1996 interim report, and the houses maintain a high level of integrity. Interest in the preservation and recognition of the district is evident in the activities of the owner's associations, and in the restoration efforts of its residents.
The City of Fort Wayne was established on the location of a series of trading posts and defensive forts. These structures were located at the portage connecting Lake Erie to the Mississippi River, a significant position the French, British, and ultimately the Americans occupied to establish and defend boundaries, and control trade and settlement. The town of Fort Wayne was platted in 1824, and was incorporated in 1840. Early growth was bolstered by the construction of the Wabash & Erie Canal beginning in 1832, and, like many Indiana towns and cities, the introduction of the Railroad in the 1850s. The railroad generated new industry based on railroad construction and repair. Bass Foundry was formed in the late 1850s and became a leader in the production of locomotive wheels. The Pennsy Shops were known for their design, construction, testing, and maintenance of steam engines and Pullman cars. At the turn of the century no less than 200 trains a day arrived and departed from Fort Wayne. Railroad activity was so great that the city's population doubled to 10,000 between 1850 and 1860. Other industries that relied on the shipping capabilities the city provided included the S.F. Bowser company that made oil storage and pumping equipment, Wayne Knitting Mills producers of hosiery and "Wayne Knit" goods, the Berghoff and Centilivre Breweries, and General Electric. The growth in industry and commercial opportunities resulted in a steady population growth to 45,000 in 1900, and almost 80,000 by 1920.
Industrial and commercial success resulted in the increased number of wealthy and middle class residents, and their desire and ability to express this success through the development of homes and private property. Simultaneously, Nineteenth Century progressives often played the unhealthy aspects of the industrialized city against the healthful benefits of the country, encouraging movement to the edges of town. Ebeneezer Howard promoted garden cities where town and country were equals, and even the Fort Wayne Journal- Gazette declared "out beyond the bounds of the city limits...acres and acres lie fallow awaiting the coming of the city dweller." Landscape historian David Schuyler pointed out that it was originally the rich that could afford the transportation costs of living apart from the city core. However, mass transportation in the form of horse-drawn streetcars "made possible the development of middle-class residential neighborhoods some distance from centers of business." He also concluded, citing Lewis Mumford, the railroad's centralizing effect "causing the concentration of population and industry in urban areas," also decentralized the upper and middle-classes to the suburbs.9 Fort Wayne's first streetcars appeared about 1872, and were horse-drawn. An electrified system appeared about 1892, and the system lasted until 1947 when it was replaced by bus service. Streetcars promoted the gradual infill of land, based on the city grid, between the primary streets that radiated out from the city's center. The streetcar system was privately run. It reacted to the city's growth when profitable, and dictated residential growth based on its availability.
The industrialization of American cities resulted in crowded and unhealthy living conditions. Streets were congested, land and housing crowded, and air and water polluted. Late nineteenth century reformers began promoting the planning of cities and city growth on principals established on mostly English and German examples.At its most basic, planning principles centered on bettering living conditions by improving water and air pollution, sanitation, traffic flow, and housing densities. Recreation opportunities, especially for children, were as important. On a more grand level, city planning and design was intended to celebrate history and promote nationalistic spirit by surrounding inhabitants with grand boulevards, public buildings, and monuments.
In America the 1893 Colombian Exposition became the model for "beautiful" American cities. Set on the Lake Michigan shoreline of Chicago, the exposition displayed idealized, monumental neo-classical buildings set in a Utopian urban setting. Thousands in attendance experienced what a "perfect" city should be. Proponents of city reform used the exposition to promote their reformist ideas. Charles Mulford Robinson (1869-1917), a planner from Rochester, New York, authored several books and articles describing the features of a "beautiful city," thus creating the term to describe this era of planning and design as the City Beautiful Era (from 1893 into the 1920s). His book Improvement of Towns and Cities was more technical than philosophical, focusing on standard street widths, parks, views, monuments, and architecture. 11 Chicago sociologist Charles Zueblin also authored books describing the technical aspects of civic improvement. He explained that the Columbian Exposition was "the epoch-making achievement in the execution of a comprehensive plan," and that it was a "prophecy of what we could do, if we were content with nothing but the best." 12
The City of Fort Wayne jumped headlong into the City Beautiful movement. Industrialization had polluted the air and rivers, and the railroads created congested streets. Civic pride took hold with city leaders, likely bolstered by the experience of visiting the Colombian Exposition, and witnessing other city's beautification plans such as Chicago, Cleveland, and Indianapolis. The Civic Improvement Association headed Fort Wayne's efforts, and in 1909 commissioned Robinson to complete an improvement plan for the city. Robinson pointed out that Fort Wayne's slow but steady population growth might have presented opportunities for civic improvement, but the lack of "spectacular booms to shock the civic consciousness" had resulted in "lethargy and procrastination." The city's narrow streets were congested, buildings were constructed on sites that "might have been civic wisdom to keep open," the rivers were "dumping grounds," and children lacked places for play. The report tended to follow and apply the principles presented in his books. Also in 1910 the association invited Zueblin to present a series of speeches on the virtues of planning and beautification. In 1912 they invited Horace McFarland, President of the American Civic Association, who punctuated a presentation promoting clean air, parks, and playgrounds with "Fort Wayne is a city of hospitals. Why not start at the other end and keep the people out of them?"
Robinson's recommendations of improving parks and streets resulted in the hiring of Landscape Architect George Kessler who provided a plan to improve transportation by constructing a network of boulevards that radiated out from the city center. The new system made use of the riverbanks to provide a scenic and "healthy" experience. Additionally, the city's perimeter had boulevards to facilitate major north to south, and east to west traffic. A 1913 promotional booklet about the city touted "The streets of Fort Wayne in the residence district are lined with elms and maples. Beautiful drives reach to every section of the city and touch all the parks. Nowhere can there be found a city of this size where the streets present more attractions for driving, for automobiling, cycling, or for the ordinary uses of traffic." Substantial portions of the plan were implemented, including Rudisill Boulevard that ended at Foster Park on the west, and McMillen Park on the east.
The boulevards and park improvement spurred several offshoot private improvements in the form of "beautiful" subdivisions. These developments, between about 1910 and 1930, were developed within the framework of the city grid. David L. Ames and Linda Flint McClelland have categorized this subdivision type as Planned Rectilinear Suburbs. Examples in Fort Wayne were typically north-south or east-west oriented streets a block to several blocks in length. They had entry "gate" structures typically consisting of brick or stone pillars and walls, sidewalk and tree-lined streets, and in many cases esplanades- park-like landscaped islands that separated traffic lanes.
One such development, Forest Park, was pitched as "the First Realization of Charles Mulford Robinson's dream of beautifying Fort Wayne." It is located adjacent to Lakeside Park, and extends several blocks north to State Street. It displays a broad esplanade, tree-lined streets, and some of the finest architectural examples in the city. Forest Park inspired similar developments throughout the city, for example Kensington Boulevard, Pemberton Drive, and Pontiac Place on the east, Lafayette Place on the south, and the series of east-to-west oriented developments mostly located between Broadway and Fairfield, including Illsley Place.
Illsley Place was platted in 1923 from the remnants of an earlier farmstead that had, more recently, been the residence of Frank Illsley Brown and Anna Bond Brown who lived in the property's stately Italianate surrounded by extensive gardens. The residence was referred to as "Illsley," and with the city's growth patterns, was a sizeable, wooded, and unplatted property sandwiched between the Oakdale addition to the north and the Rudisill Boulevard development on the south. The 1918 Sanborn Map presents an interesting illustration of this block-long ten-acre property stretching from Broadway Avenue to Beaver Avenue, and containing the west-facing Italianate and several outbuildings. The property was platted and sold to local land developer W.E. Doud in 1923. If not the mindset of the developer, for Illsley Place is a typical example of residential developments at this time and in this quarter of the city, the nature of the linear property seems to have dictated the drive fit into the existing city grid. The property was divided in half, with a tree-lined drive from Broadway to Beaver. It had a small roundabout at its center, brick entry markers at each end, and sidewalks. Twenty-two lots were placed north of the drive, and twenty-three south. They were roughly 60x140, or about two-tenths of an acre in size. The Brown residence was relocated southeast to 1225, and rotated north to face the new drive. Local newspaper promotions declared it "Fort Wayne's Most Exclusive District," and described it as located "on the highest elevation in Fort Wayne's most attractive residential district, Illsley Place offers to the man who is now planning his future home, every advantage he may desire. Nature has provided every element necessary to make it the chosen spot as an abiding place of man." Nature, "assisted by the hand of man," included "Graceful maples, sturdy oaks, and beautiful shrubbery," and its location provided "peaceful quietude." The development quickly filled, with all but three houses constructed prior to World War II.
Rudisill Boulevard is a product of Fort Wayne's beautification plan initiated by the Civic Improvement Association's hiring of Charles Mulford Robinson in 1909 and refined by George Kessler in 1912. Rudisill was an existing road, but in the plan became the east-west corridor south of the city linking Anthony Boulevard to the St. Mary's Parkway, two north-south corridors on the east and west "sides" of the city. Rudisill's west end, included in this district, terminates at Foster Park and the St. Mary's River, and its east end continues four blocks past Anthony Boulevard and terminates into McMillen Park (beyond the city limits when the plan was developed). The boulevard was designed to efficiently move traffic in a scenic, pleasurable, and healthy environment. The right-of-way was one hundred feet wide and contained a forty-foot wide road flanked by parallel tree lawns and sidewalks. Improvements started in 1912, Oriental Planetrees (Platanus orientalis) were planted on both the street and owner's sides of the walk beginning in 1915, and the boulevard received macadam paving in 1916.
Although West Rudisill was not part of a gated community, the scale of its lots and significance of its architecture is evidence that it was a prominent location for the city's elite. It was located on the scenic boulevard, and easily accessed Foster Park and the river. The section within the district boundaries is comprised of the Thompson Partition Lot No. 5 (circa 1880) and the Bellevue Terrace Addition (c.1912) on the north, and Wiebkes Homestead Addition (circa 1924) on the south. In the district are seventeen properties on the north averaging about one-third of an acre in size (75x80), and fourteen properties on the south about fourtenths an acre in size (75x225). Twenty-six houses were constructed beginning in 1913, and, unlike Illsley Place, as much as one-third of the houses, seven Ranches and two non-contributing Minimal Traditionals, were constructed after World War II. Two Ranches were constructed in the early 1950s "outside" the defined developments on Broadway/Old Mill Road on lots that would appear to be favorable housing locations, but which remained vacant for nearly thirty years.
The trolley car line that ran north along Broadway served the district. However, the affordability of massproduced automobiles, especially to the financially comfortable Illsley Place and West Rudisill residents, is evident in that all houses have garages. The overwhelming majority of these houses have detached garages accessed from the street by driveways.
A study of the district's residents and their professions show that, for the most part, these houses were constructed for members of Fort Wayne's upper and upper-middle class that could afford an architect designed home. Many residents were upper management for the city's more prominent institutions such as S. M. Foster Company and Lincoln National Life Insurance Company. Several were doctors, realtors, and bankers. Quite a few owned their own businesses, including restaurants, a jewelry store, manufacturing companies, cleaners, and clothing and furniture stores. Entrepreneur Gertrude Muller (1126 West Rudisill) was the president and manager of an enterprise that produced one of the earliest child's toilet seats, authored a book on toilet training, developed a child's car seat, and attended President Elsenhower's 1954 White House Conference on Highway Safety. As mentioned above, architect A.M. Strauss lived at 1220 Illsley Drive. Theodore Zollner, founder of Zollner Machine Works, lived at 1140 Illsley Drive. His ingenuity and success provided his son Fred, who succeeded him, the monetary ability to promote professional sports. Fred founded the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons basketball team, which became the Detroit Pistons in 1957, and is in the NBA Hall of Fame.
Aside from the Italianate Brown House, the district's architectural styles are representative of Early Twentieth Century and post-World War II housing trends. They represent a mixture of both professionally designed and carpenter-built examples.
† Adapted from: Christopher Bass, Illsley Place-West Rudisill Historic District, nomination document, 2005, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Beaver Avenue • Broadway • Illsley Drive • Illsley Place • Old Mill Road • Rudisill Boulevard